How I Become Myself

“I said sit, damn you, sit.”
I’ve been fidgeting, practically dancing
in my seat.
I have a short attention span.
I’m hyper.
I can’t help it.
So here I am, cowering again;
Looking for a way out; to run and
hide in my secret fort. An old
metal dumpster turned on
its side, between two
abandoned buildings.
It smells like piss from the
bums who seem to keep
mistaking it for a porta-potty,
and yet it smells better than
ice-cold Harvard beets
shoved in my face:
“I said eat ’em. Now! Or it’s straight to bed!”
Promise? Sounds good to me.
I just sat there until everyone
got tired of busting my balls
and I went to my room.
I did not eat the beets.

Much happened in my life after the
Harvard beets “incident.”
(Not that it was the sole cause.)
Booze and drugs followed;
and women; lots of women.
Antisocial behavior
and prison walls.
Big, thick, made of rocks
too big for any man to carry.
This was a job for machines.
I learned that God doesn’t
talk to me
when I’m high, or when I’m
pawning stolen jewelry
to by crack cocaine.
And He’s not fond of
fox hole prayers.
He wanted me to get beyond
all the garbage in my life.
He had a plan.
He always did. All He could do
was wait for me to want it too.

His plan certainly didn’t
involve me selling weed
and smoking all the profit;
painting houses for drugs and
calling it self-employment.
He didn’t want me growing up
wasted
day after day
on one drug or another,
eating welfare food, and getting
thrown into the county
jail,
then the state
penitentiary.
He wanted me to be who He
made me to be.
He wanted me to use the talents
and gifts he gave me – not let them
lay in the “attic”
I like to call my
mind, doing nothing more
than collecting dust.

Here’s the inverse:
To hell with all this
negative talk about how I’m
nothing
and I’ll always be
nothing.
God made me in His own image.
Do you realize what that means?
Either God’s a low-life
drug dealing petty thief, in and out of jail,
(which He ain’t!), or
this phony life I’ve been chasing
is for nought.
I started to realize I was
wasting my time; I was
squandering what God gave me.
I remembered:
God has not given us the spirit of fear;
but of power, and of love, and of a
sound mind.

I know what you’re
thinking:
So then where does all
this crap, this violence, this hatred,
this disrespect, this fear, this indifference,
this intolerance, this racism come from?
Wait,
my friend.
I don’t know the why of all that,
but I do know I was made
for something good.
You
were made for something good.
Everyone was.

God’s will for me is to
grow into who I am, and reach out in love
to those who are suffering,
placing their needs above mine.
That’s part one.
Moreover, He has given me certain gifts
and talents to use in ministering
to my fellow man.
That’s part two.
That is the person I
am meant to be.
It has always been so.

So, how do I become myself?
Be the me God intended me to be?
This includes you too, my friend.
Ain’t no “white” thing or “straight” thing
or “Christian” thing, because it
doesn’t exclude anyone.
Not
even
you.
Oh, you have done some things too?
But in God’s eyes, you aren’t what you’ve done before,
and you aren’t to be limited by the color
of your skin,
or your family of origin,
or whether you understand
the science of Albert Einstein.

God made you in His image.
He made me.
He made us all.
There is one body,
but many parts.
If I want to know the real me, all I
have to do is stand still, silent, listening.
And that’s what I did.
I listened for God, and I
heard Him in my heart.
I found the real me.
I finally became myself.
I ain’t belong to nobody else!
Not anymore!
I don’t even belong to the booze and drugs.
Not anymore at all.
It starts with listening for God’s voice
and being willing to believe what he says
you can be.
You, too, can become what God wants you to be.
Just listen and decide.

© Steven Barto 2017

NIDA to Undertake Research on Adolescents, Drug Use and Development

From the blog of Dr. Lora Volkow, National Institute of Drug Abuse, posted  September 13, 2016.

Adolescence is a time of many physical, behavioral, and social transitions, not to mention changes in the brain. As part of their normal maturation, people in their second decade of life are beginning to become independent in the world, which means seeking new experiences and taking risks to determine what they are capable of. The state of the adolescent brain reflects this: The structure and circuits governing reward and emotion are more fully developed and tend to win out in the tug-of-war with the still-maturing prefrontal circuits governing judgment and impulse control. The behaviors that arise as a result of this imbalance can be wide-ranging, both positive and negative, including potentially harmful behaviors like substance use. Such behaviors can in turn affect how the brain develops, often in ways that remain poorly understood.

The phrase “more longitudinal research needed” is the bottom-line message in many studies of substance use and other behaviors during this period of life and their long-term impacts—such as whether using drugs increases risk of mental illness (or vice versa), whether smoking marijuana causes lower IQ (or vice versa), or whether vaping leads to increased or decreased cigarette use. This is why NIDA is excited to announce that recruitment is now underway for the largest longitudinal study ever conducted on adolescent behavior, brain development, and related health outcomes.

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, which has been in the planning phase for just under a year, is now recruiting more than 10,000 9- and 10-year-olds at 19 research sites across the United States, and will follow these young people for a decade, through their early adulthood. Recruitment will be conducted over a two-year period through partnerships with public and private schools near the research sites, as well as through twin registries.

The study will collect an enormous amount of behavioral, genetic, and health data on the participants, including MRI scans every other year, so that brain development can be tracked and correlated with a vast range of factors including participation in extracurricular activities like music and athletics; video games and screen time; sleep habits; head injuries from sports; and experimentation with or regular use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other substances, as well as socioeconomic and other environmental variables.

Besides enabling researchers to draw stronger conclusions about the developmental impacts of adolescent behaviors and environments, it will also create, for the first time, a baseline standard of normative brain development. Today, when parents take their child to the doctor, their physical development can be plotted and compared to established norms for measures like height and weight, but nothing of this kind has ever existed for brain maturation. The ABCD study data will clarify the normal trajectory of brain development and its developmental benchmarks. At the end of this study, pediatricians will potentially have new brain-imaging biomarkers to determine if a patient’s development is off course, so that they can possibly intervene.

To me, this is the only way to win the “war on drugs.”

For more information about ABCD, please visit its website at www.ABCDStudy.org.

Can I Be Real?

Can I be real?
Just for a moment anyway.
(Any longer and I may
start hating myself all over again.)
I stand before you,
less than an artist,
but hoping to appeal
to your kinder side.

You reach for me at times
in frustration, not meaning
to endanger
our entanglement.
Certainly, we revel in the
dance of our emotions.
In fact, they seem to form
who we are when we’re
together.

We don’t know how to
be apart. From
the start there was nothing
other than us.
(I stayed with you the first
night you moved into your
new house, and every night after
for six months.)

I try standing taller
whenever you approach me,
but I feel less than you.
I am no alpha male; rather,
I shrink
in your presence,
I think,
sensing
a superiority
you cannot help but
ooze.

The booze, for me,
is liquid courage, but
I’m like the porridge Red
could not accept
until the third bowl.
I cannot,
even with all my might,
measure up to your abilities.

As if a serving of porridge,
I am not necessarily cold; just, I don’t
know, maybe
merely
food,
but not sustenance.

I could never be the
writer you are. I’m unable
to see the things
you see.
No harm, really. It’s not
as though I’ve suffered
a dashed dream.

It would seem I
am merely not able to push my
feelings up from
deep within my gut, down my
arm,
into my hands and fingers, and
onto the page.
I am not capable of
translation like you are.

I know the language,
and can grunt a
word or two, but the
fact is I fail to
get the words out
at the same intensity
I am feeling them
inside.

Tragic in a way.
It’s as if the one thing
I do best,
That is, to feel,
is not enough.
Writing
is not for me.

Oh, I would love to be
a writer, sure,
but what kind of art form
involves a depressed
and anxious soul
belting out his insecurities?
No one wants to read about
worms eating at my heart,
depleting my love for life:
or gnats buzzing in my head,
distracting me from
my deeper thoughts.
(My ruminations and such.)

So, no, I won’t write.
I’ll let storytelling and
prose, and poetry, and
activities of expression
such as these to
you,
the real writer.

© 2017 Steven Barto

Initial Grace vs. Ongoing Grace

I want to take a few moments to compare justifying grace and sanctifying grace; in other words, initial grace and ongoing grace. This is always an edifying and valuable exercise. As Christians, we tend to forget that we are sanctified through the same means that we are justified. The initial grace that forever changed us was the justifying and forgiving grace of God. The prophets of the Old Testament tell of the good news that God forgives our iniquities and remembers our sin no more. (See Jeremiah 31:34) Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (NIV)  When we repented of our sins and called upon Christ as Lord and Savior, we were forgiven and justified, declared not guilty. We were made righteous in His sight.

Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. (See Hebrews 12:2).  He manifests Himself to us through the Gospel as the One who is able to save us. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our need for salvation. We trust in the saving work of Jesus rather in our own works. Revelation 5:12 says, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” The grace of God, by which we are justified in our rebirth, is the same grace that must continually be at work in us for growth and sanctification.  Remember that the core meaning of sanctification is to be set apart for God.

The biblical concept of ongoing grace is wrapped up tightly with the idea that we trust in the saving work of Jesus, and we see Him as the finisher or, even more succinctly, the perfecter, of our faith. No Christian has mastered spiritual discipline. In fact, the more we grow in grace, the more we realize how little we know apart from God. Spiritual perfection is more accurately spiritual maturity. As we grow in Christ we come to understand our inadequacy to go it alone. Never should we say to ourselves, “I got this!”

The so-called five-fold ministry refers to God giving some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and some as teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service in order to build up the body of Christ. The goal is that we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (See Ephesians 4:11-13)

According to word studies in the original Greek, “for the equipping of the saints” literally indicates an ultimate goal of perfecting or maturing the Body of Christ. Ministering and building are means to this end. The concept is growth through adjustment, and is further explained in Colossians 1:10, wherein the Body is to be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. This is further described in Hebrews 13:21 where God wants us to become perfect (equipped, mature) in every good work to do His will. Clearly, it is only through ongoing grace that we are able to grow and mature in Christ.

Miracles

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in
the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in
the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a
summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of
stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new
moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is
spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motions of
the waves—the ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

—Walt Whitman

To the Indians Who Died in Africa

A man’s destination is his own village,
His own fire, and his wife’s cooking;
To sit in front of his own door at sunset
And see his grandson, and his neighbour’s grandson
Playing in the dust together.

Scarred but secure, he has many memories
Which return at the hour of conversation,
(The warm or the cool hour, according to the climate)
Of foreign men, who fought in foreign places,
Foreign to each other.

A man’s destination is not his destiny,
Every country is home to one man
And exile to another. Where a man dies bravely
Let his village remember.

This was not your land, or ours: but a village in the Midlands,
And one in the Five Rivers, may have the same graveyard.
Let those who go home tell the same story of you:
Of action with a common purpose, action
None the less fruitful if neither you nor we
Know, until the moment after death,
What is the fruit of action.

—T.S. Eliot

Mini Series to Come

I have struggled for decades with controlling my flesh. We all have been in the same dilemma. I believe the most instructive Scriptures on this matter can be found in Romans 6, 7, and 8. Many have said these three chapters are the bedrock of flesh versus Spirit. I am particularly impressed with Paul’s comment that he could not do that which he wanted to do, and said that which he did not want to do, that he did.

I am working on a three-part mini series covering these three chapters of Romans. I hope to have the first part finished and posted by Sunday, January 22nd.

God bless.

Communion With God

Perfection and liberation come from aligning one’s self with the “highest intelligence.” The powers of contemplation are attained through one’s relationship and devotion to God.

When we have an emotional crisis, it’s natural to want to call out to someone for help. Thoughts and prayers flow automatically. In any difficult time, there is a longing to find comfort and to search for a higher reason or power. We look to God, the Creator, for guidance. We long for His voice. We thirst for communion with Him. We should never let the how of conversation stop us from simply talking to Him. We need only to begin. Say to Him, “God, for the next few minutes, I just want to be alone with You” Relax. Breathe. Become aware of His presence. You will eventually find something to say. Once the conversation begins, it’s easy to continue. Trust yourself. You’ll know what to say. The effects you get will be linked to your focus.

Ask God to help you be closer to Him. And tell Him how much closer you’d like to be. Tell Him how you feel. You can’t bore God, so have the same conversation again and again if you wish. You can’t offend God either, so rant and rave. Cry. Sob. Tell God exactly how you feel. The more relaxed and honest your conversation, the easier it gets and the deeper your experience becomes. Do your best, and then surrender. Leave the rest to God. If this process seems difficult, remind yourself that with God there is no such thing as failure. The only failure here is when you abandon the effort. Then, you only fail yourself by affirming your obstacles.

Within the Circuit of this Plodding Life

Within the circuit of this plodding life
There enter moments of an azure hue,
Untarnished fair as is the violet
Or anemone, when the spring strews them
By some meandering rivulet, which make
The best philosophy untrue that aims
But to console man for his grievances.
I have remembered when the winter came,
High in my chamber in the frosty nights,
When in the still light of the cheerful moon,
On every twig and rail and jutting spout,
The icy spears were adding to their length
Against the arrows of the coming sun,
How in the shimmering noon of summer past
Some unrecorded beam slanted across
The upland pastures where the Johnswort grew;
Or heard, amid the verdure of my mind,
The bee’s long smothered hum, on the blue flag
Loitering amidst the mead; or busy rill,
Which now through all its course stands still
and dumb
Its own memorial, purling at its play
Along the slopes, and through the meadows
next,
Until its youthful sound was hushed at last
In the staid current of the lowland stream;
Or seen the furrows shine but late upturned,
And where the fieldfare followed in the rear,
Beneath a thick integument of snow.
So by God’s cheap economy made rich
To go upon my winter’s task again.

Henry David Thoreau

To Look at Any Thing

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say,
“I have seen spring in these
Woods” will not do — you must
Be the thing you see:
You must be the dark snakes of
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between
The leaves,
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from.

John Moffitt